Open War

Former friends host closed-mikes at opposite ends of town, but their pasts keep crossing

If you'd asked me about spite incarnate 10 years ago, I would've told you about the Feldman brothers of New Rochelle, New York.

Two siblings in the family tuxedo business, they worked side by side for 15 years until someone got too passionate about cummerbunds or expanding the powder-blue inventory. Whatever went down, it compelled one brother to break off and start up his own business, also called Feldman Tuxedos, directly across the street from his brother. They never spoke to each other again, and anyone who rented a ruffled shirt from these rancorous old penguins was a pawn in their silent tuxedo war. It would be nice to report that people wanted to see the black and white world at peace again, but no one cared -- you just couldn't beat the savings. All you had to do was mention you'd been across the street and prices would be slashed, with a free pair of spats thrown in besides.

Here's another pair of spats, free of charge. Before they hated the spit out of each other, Andrew Lockwood and Shayne Caraway were like brothers, maybe more like brothers than even they realize. Best friends in high school 15 years ago, things slowly degenerated through living together, playing in an angry industrial band together, going into business together and sharing a mutual circle of friends. They'd perform at open-mikes together and discussed hosting one together. That was before taking the former roommate gripe "someone drank the last of the orange juice and left the empty container in the fridge" to its natural conclusion.

Singer-songwriter Lonna, left, and Optimist, before their acrimonious falling out.
Kevin Scanlon
Singer-songwriter Lonna, left, and Optimist, before their acrimonious falling out.
Andrew Lockwood (top) is the MC/organizer of Songwriters' Ball. Bluesman Jack Straw (above) performs at Acoustic Alley with a guest vocalist.
Kevin Scanlon
Andrew Lockwood (top) is the MC/organizer of Songwriters' Ball. Bluesman Jack Straw (above) performs at Acoustic Alley with a guest vocalist.

Two and a half years ago, embroiled in disputes over girlfriends and musical partnerships -- not always mutually exclusive interests -- the pair ceased all verbal contact. Like an admonishing report card, Caraway (a.k.a. Optimist) derides Lockwood, saying he "has increasingly shown a lack of respecting normal, appropriate boundaries with me, especially when it comes to girls. This lack of respect expanded into my professional prospects."

Chief among his accusations are the numerous times Lockwood has allegedly dipped his toes in the "Optimist talent pool" and squired away female singer-songwriters for Lockwood band projects.

Lockwood counters that "Shayne has odd ideas about ownership -- he thinks he owns people."

As spectators, no one has to respect any of these boundaries -- anyone can step inside the soap opera worlds of Caraway and Lockwood and see for him- or herself. Fourteen months ago, Lockwood began hosting a closed-mike night at the Emerald Lounge in Phoenix called Songwriters' Ball, held on the last Thursday of every month. Three months later, Optimist began hosting an open-mike night every Sunday at Hollywood Alley in Mesa as well as a closed-mike night called Acoustic Alley on the last Wednesday of every month (the next Acoustic Alley will be April 24, with Songwriters' Ball the following night). Here's some of the drama you may have already missed:

February 27, Acoustic Alley. By happenstance, Cockeyed Ghost's Adam Marsland winds up being the only artist ever to get booked for Acoustic Alley and Songwriters' Ball on consecutive nights. He writes in his tour diary: "I later found out the Optimist and Andrew are nemeses with dueling nights, so it's interesting that I played their shows back to back."

February 28, Songwriters' Ball. Marsland writes of this appearance: "I drew more people and the crowd more receptive to what I was doing," while adding that "Andrew's new band, Velveteen Dream, closed the night with some cool, dreamy pop that reminded me of the Church." He also gives a thumbs up to "Jim Miles' kickass set." Miles co-leads Lockwood's side project X-Offender and is his current roommate. As recently as last year, Miles roomed at Caraway's house and played with him in Jonny Bionic's Trailer Park Disaster as recently as January. Now would be a good time to start thinking about making flash cards.

March 10, Optimist's Open-Mike. Tonight's sign-up sheet has a strange but familiar name -- it's Sarah Meyer, one of the aforementioned singer-songwriters Optimist discovered and split with acrimoniously. For the past year, she has been in the band Velveteen Dream with Lockwood, also in attendance tonight. Although most people wouldn't attend an open-mike of someone whose guts they reputedly hate, gutsy Sarah insists she had a new song she was eager to play, and to hell with Optimist. (Sample lyric: "Still taste your lemonade/Feels a little bitter on my tongue.") Later, Optimist, who often tapes shows on minidisc, transcribes the lyrics and determines the song's about him because it mentions her age when they went out together. "It's tough to be in love with Optimist," he crows. "Sarah's a very confused girl. A brilliant mess." Meyer insists they never went out together and the song is about a friend named Laurie. Fans of songs about refreshing lemonade don't know what to think.

Also playing that night is Jonny Bionic, who used to play the Songwriters' Ball until Optimist started up the Acoustic Alley. "Jonny and I have an ongoing friendship, and he's part of the family of Songwriters' Ball," says Lockwood, who wants it known he's never discouraged any of his musician friends from going over to what he calls "the dark side." "But since Shayne has been playing in Jonny's band Trailer Park Disaster, Jonny's stopped coming around the Emerald." Caraway denies ever giving Bionic any ultimatums, but the subject of loyalty rears its parental head, and not for the first time. "If I'm gonna give someone like Jonny first dibs on a show, there needs to be some exclusivity," he demands.

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